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First Impressions group analyzes downtown Tilton's assets, opportunities for growth

Sue Cagle of the UNH Cooperative Extension helped facilitate a First Impressions group discussion that considered ways to improve traffic and pedestrian movement in downtown Tilton last Thursday evening. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
October 03, 2018
TILTON – Local residents, students, business owners and both town and state officials took part in a "First Impressions: Tilton" forum last Thursday evening to discuss the assets and opportunities of downtown Tilton that an independent group of residents from Pittsfield observed over the summer.

Sue Cagle and Jared Reynolds of the UNH Cooperative Extension, which is assisting towns with their First Impressions initiatives, led off the forum by discussing what the Pittsfield team reported after their visit.

Among the key assets they identified were the layout of downtown, the Tilton School community and the parks and river, not to mention the friendly people they met.

"The layout made it easily 'walkable' and accessible. Amenities were located close together and it was easy to find and access shops and parks," the report said.

As for the parks and the river they commented, "These are a huge asset. They have great amenities like grills, pavilions, bathrooms, picnic tables and benches. The parks are scenic and well kept."

The school's grounds and architecture also impressed the surveyors, stating there is a potential partnership to be found there. Under the category that asked whether or not the downtown was pedestrian friendly, they found it to be both an asset and a future opportunity.

"There were ample crosswalks and the sidewalks were well kept, but there was mixed feedback about how comfortable people felt crossing the street, given the traffic," they said.

Among the many opportunities they noted were to create better river access and visibility, a need to "dress" empty storefronts until new businesses move in, improve traffic/pedestrian management and perhaps add better signage. They also felt there could be ways to give the downtown sense of identity or "branding" by creating closer connections with the river, trails, the Town of Northfield, the Tilton Arch.

Hearing this, and for the most part in agreement, more than 60 people on hand that night then broke up into teams to address the topics of traffic/pedestrian management, the river, business diversity and visual appearance.

In the business diversity discussions, some voiced a concern on the need to find ways to make businesses stay in town.

"They seem like they have great potential then suddenly they're closed," observed one woman.

Some felt parking or rental rates could be issues, but also observed that while there is a lot of traffic flowing through the town, people often don't stop.

A few things suggested were to improve parking (and signs for the municipal lots) and have better snow removal between the street and sidewalks in the winter.

Taking part in that discussion was Executive Councilor Joe Kenney. Kenney informed the group about a "business incubator" service available at Plymouth State University and

suggested they try to attract more in the way of entertainment to the town. He added that it would be beneficial to get the students of Tilton School involved in the process.

"They're the Millennials; have them come up with business ideas and their vision for the future," Kenney said.

In the next room, another group tackled the topic of the Winnipesaukee River. Among them were two Tilton selectmen, a Northfield selectman and a science teacher from Tilton School. When asked if the river divides or joins Tilton and Northfield, Tilton Selectman Jon Scanlon felt it brings unity through recreational events while Scott Haskins of Northfield saw it differently.

"The river to me means a separation of the two towns and I don't want that. That's why I'm here," he said.

Suggestions were to promote a clean up of buildings and land along the waterfront and encourage businesses that would cater to kayak rentals and other forms of recreation. The teacher pointed out that with improved access, the river could provide great outdoor learning experiences for students, too.

The group also thought a pedestrian bridge connecting Northfield's Surrette Park with Riverfront Park in Tilton would be a great asset to both towns.

In the Visual Appearance room, interested parties included students from Tilton School who said they would be happy to consider some of the ideas brought up such as flower barrels along Main Street, banners and other means to "dress up" the area.

Finally, the traffic/pedestrian management group considered making Main Street a one-way street to lessen congestion and provide safer conditions for cars backing out of the street side parking spaces. They, along with the police chief, who was part of the group, thought a permanent digital speed sign to warn drivers if they exceed the speed limit could also improve safety. Most of all, they concluded that a conceptual design of what traffic pattern changes would look like and a commitment to work with Northfield officials would be necessary as the First Impressions Steering Committee moves forward. State Senator Bob Giuda sat in with that group, too, and told them there were highway grants and other financial aid opportunities he would be willing to help the town acquire when they were ready.

One gentleman summed up his thoughts by looking to the past to resolve issues of today.

He pointed out that with the fine architecture along Main Street, the Tilton Arch and the statues placed around town, "Charles Tilton already went through this. He saw this as the Gateway to the Lakes Region and we need to play up the historic aspect of all we have."

Juliet Harvey of the First Impressions: Tilton steering committee thanked all who took part in the evening and said the date for another such event will be announced in the near future.

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